Sweet Georgia On My Mind

Pause for one moment. I don’t mean Hoagy Carmichael’s place. I mean the bona fide country that borders Turkey, the Black Sea, Russia, Azerbaijan and Armenia.

The war between Russia and the Ukraine continues and truck traffic is backed up for many miles with supplies being shipped through Turkey and Georgia heading to the war zone. Trucks pull off the road and wait their turn to be called to another pullout a wee bit closer. Hurry up and wait.

It wasn’t that long ago when Georgia won their own independence from Russia (1991). These heart-felt signs are right at the border expressing support and unity. I’m certain that Georgia fears that they could be next. It appears there’s no love loss as it took about two seconds to remove Lenin’s statue from Batumi’s freedom square after independence was declared.

There’s culture shock simply crossing the border into Georgia. First, you can’t read the Kartvelian language which has some connection to ancient Aramaic. There are 33 letters in the written word but it looks like computer code. In Batumi along the sea walkway there is the Alphabet Tower with letters swirling up the hard metal surface. I don’t know. Looks Greek to me!

We’ve left the Muslim faith behind and now embrace Christian Orthodoxy. It’s very clear with a chapel at the border and nearby there’s a small waterfall with a statue of a saint offering a blessing. No more head-coverings and welcome mini-skirts.

About 15 miles before Batumi there’s a Roman Era castle in Adjara, Georgia. The archaeology digs show an early layer from 7-8 BC. The Roman’s expanded this fortress later in the 1st century A.D. It’s believed that 1200-1500 soldiers were stationed here. There are remains of a Roman bath, barracks, and parts of 18 towers built into the walls. In the 4th century AD the Romans abandoned the compound, but by the 6th century it was taken over by Byzantines. As time marched on, the garrison was later controlled by the Ottomans. Sounds like we’re playing Russian Roulette.

Speaking of gambling, Batumi is THE Las Vegas on the Black Sea. The city has grown rich from gambling Turks, Russians, and visiting Saudi’s. There are building cranes all over town and construction is booming, even in this COVID era. The architecture runs the gambit from sleek modern to soviet era housing to kitschy fun. And the skyline at night is gorgeous from a roof-top deck.

There are several squares:

Europe Square with 19th and early 20th century buildings. It was fun to walk around and experience old world charm. I couldn’t get enough of the blooming wisteria as I’ve always wanted to grow it—but it won’t grow where I live.

Piazza Square is decorated with mosaic and stained glass to look like something from Italy.

We didn’t visit Freedom square near the water, but there’s a beautiful pedestrian walkway through a park all along the Black Sea. It’s a fun place to people watch and eat at various restaurants. The locals are friendly, even when we crashed a birthday party.

Batumi is famous for many murals. Anyone fond of geocaching or treasure hunting will like to see how many they can find.

The Batumi Botanical Garden, a little outside of town, is also along the sea and is a nice place to stroll through huge magnolia trees and sections of Japanese Maples. The tepid Mediterranean climate allows many sub-tropic plants to grow here.

On the road to Riza, Turkey

The featured picture in this post isn’t taken in Switzerland. It is a Turkish village called Hamsikoy at the base of the Zigana Mountain. This area of Turkey has lush green forests and alpine plateaus with a backdrop of snow covered peaks. This was such a surprise to me. The view is great but you’re coming to Hamsikoy for the best rice pudding in all of Turkey. Look for the Sutlac sign on the right as you enter town.

On the way to Zilkale Fortress, you will pass medieval bridges. In the surrounding hillsides there are centuries old wooden homes peppering the green forest.

Zilkale Fortress is a castle built during the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century. It is in a stunning location high on a cliff above the Firtina River. The views from the upper walls of the surrounding Pontic mountains (12,917′ ) and the wide panorama to the river below is simply breathtaking.

This fortress was an important place along the quicker, but more dangerous, silk road route to the port in Trabzon where items were loaded onto ships. I cannot imagine a caravan of animals and packs making it through this terrain. Remains of a chapel, the garrison, outer and inner walls, tower and chapel can be explored. This route for the silk road was so rough it required defensive fortresses every 30 km.

6 km away from the fortress is Palovit Waterfall in the Kackar Mountains National Park. It is 49′ high and thundering with water. Rainbows dance in the afternoon sun and settle on lush plants. Climbing down the walkway is wet and potentially slick. When you get to the barrier at the end, you can’t see the whole falls. The real view is better from the road a little higher up from the stairs.

and a little further on is a short hike to the Tar River waterfall. This is a paved river-side track. Through a dark green forest with flowers blooming and we found watercress too. I’d like to return to this part of Turkey and do some hiking in the mountains.